June 2015
Volume 11, Issue 6

A Simple Marketing Plan for Busy Dental Practices

Ideas that even overworked and understaffed dentists can implement

Duane LeVine | Dan Reed

Let’s talk about the dreaded marketing plan. It’s not that dentists aren’t business savvy enough to make the plan, or that they don’t “get” marketing. Clearly, anyone who can make it through 8 or more years of secondary education can hold their own in a variety of subjects. But the specifics of devising a message, creating a marketing mix, understanding the nuances of a geographic region, and then budgeting? Even a modestly sized practice could spend months on these tasks. That’s why 2015 is the year we’re doing something radical.

Scrap it all.

Forget about local television, yellow pages, the regional newspapers, and that magazine that shares a name with your city. Even with national-quality messaging, unless you’re willing to spend like a drunken sailor, your efforts will lack both the reach and frequency to make a difference to anything but your own ego. So this year, we simplify. The only thing we’ll focus on is digital. We’re putting all of our eggs in the digital basket, and it’s going to generate more bang for the buck. Here’s why.

It’s not that digital is going to change everything—it already has. Spending on digital advertising is projected to reach $61.4 billion dollars in 2017.1 But the bigger revelation is that it’s already more than $40 billion dollars. It’s money well spent.

In the United States, 71% of adults own a smartphone. That number jumps to more than 85% for Millennials.2 That’s important because without a pipeline of Millennials to replace the aging Baby Boomers, your bookings will start declining precipitously.

Americans already spend four times more time on mobile devices than newspapers and magazines.3 These devices are now integrated with how people interact with their surroundings. This means potential patients don’t need to be in front of a TV or looking at a specific page in a newspaper for you to reach them. Once you establish a significant digital presence, you’re with them 24/7.

So let’s get down to specifics.

Build a Better Website

When was the last time your website was updated? Does it employ responsive design? Is the content primed for search engine optimization (SEO)? If it feels like we’re picking on you, we are. In the past, word of mouth was the primary driver of new business. Today, digital is the new word of mouth. Digital starts with your site.

Even if you were going to employ a traditional approach (and you’re not), your website needs to run like a gazelle in today’s digital environment. And it needs to be easy to use. The rest is just digital window dressing.

Whether you go with a custom-built site or purchase an off-the-shelf template is a matter of personal preference, as both have their pros and cons. Expect to invest more time and effort if you go with an off-the-shelf, templated solution versus more money if you hire a professional firm to create content and do the programming and design for you. Either way, you can expect it to be worth every penny. Weebly, Squarespace, and Wordpress are all quality website providers that offer a full menu of features and options to crank your online presence up in 2015.

Harness the Power of Blogging

Having a blog used to be a luxury of some sort. Not anymore. DM News tells us that blogs are 63% more likely to influence purchase decisions than magazines.4 It’s an essential component of driving search results. It’s where you accumulate content and establish what you (and your practice) stand for.

Original content is great. If you have the luxury of time or the ability to convey your thoughts in writing, consider authoring a blog yourself or asking someone on your staff to do so. Ideas for content include your thoughts on an article from a clinical periodical, a human-interest story, or something in the news. Blogs do not need to be long. Purchased content is also available if you and your staff don’t have the time or skill to write an original blog.

As for frequency, posting once a week is the absolute minimum, but you should aim for twice. You can expect an average of 30 minutes per post. Like any technique, your posting speed will improve. Once you post something to your blog, you need to make sure you get the word out via social media.

Dive into Social Media

If digital is the new word of mouth, then social is where most conversations happen. Forty-seven percent of Americans say Facebook is the number one influencer of their purchases.4 For a business, social isn’t about witty comments or viral messages—it’s about listening. Social lets you hear what’s important to your customers, how they perceive you, what the competition is doing, and where you need education.

People expect brands to be on at least one to two social channels, as they see it as a dedication to transparency, accountability, and even customer service. Tracking ROI on social isn’t perfect, but it’s improving rapidly. Not all patients are going to follow your Twitter feed or comment on your office’s posts on Instagram. But it still needs to be done. Social leaves footprints in the digital sand that ultimately lead back to your practice.

Like the blog, someone in your practice should own the responsibility of your social media. At a minimum, you should be on Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter. There are many social marketing management (SMM) tools available to make your life easier with content suggestions, pre-scheduling and analytics. Following other brands can also be a great source of knowledge that you can repurpose as your own content. Posts about the office, staff, and milestones let patients take a peek into your world and builds relationships. Most practices can get all the functionality they need (and then some) for about $50 per month for a SMM program.

Cultivate Patient Reviews

Even if you’ve never been online, your patients are, and they’re talking about you. Go ahead and Google your practice name along with the word “review.” If you’ve never done this before, it can come as a shock. The average buyer consults 11 consumer reviews on their path to purchase.4

The biggest misconception about user-generated reviews is that it’s a passive experience for the practice. Patients are going to say what they’re going to say. But practices can still play a huge role in shaping the conversation. That doesn’t mean disputing (bad) debating (worse) or deleting (impossible), but rather responding with a sentence or two to each positive review and reaching out to the negative reviews. Your receptionist should also close every appointment with “if you’ve had a good experience, we’d love to have you say something online.”

Once they’re posted, there are two ways to approach reviews. You can do it piecemeal and check the sites individually. Or you can employ a service like Reputation.com to monitor them for you. Personally, we prefer the interactivity of going on the sites (Google+, Yahoo! Reviews, Yelp, and healthgrades.com) and seeing what’s said about me and the competition. Plus, that’s free.

About the Authors

Duane LeVine is president and chief operating officer and Dan Reed is senior copywriter for Blakeslee Advertising, a full service marketing and public relations firm. Working in collaboration, Mr. LeVine and Mr. Reed help businesses discover, develop, and deliver impactful brand messaging. They have more than three decades of experience in the dental and orthodontic space. They can be reached at duane.levine@blakesleeadv.com and dan.reed@blakesleeadv.com.


1. Total US ad spending to see largest increase since 2004. eMarketer website. www.emarketer.com/Article/Total-US-Ad-Spending-See-Largest-Increase-Since-2004/1010982. July 2, 2014. Accessed January 29, 2015.

2. Mobile Millennials: over 85% of Generation Y owns smartphones. Nielsen website. www.nielsen.com/us/en/insights/news/2014/mobile-millennials-over-85-percent-of-generation-y-owns-smartphones.html. September 5, 2014. Accessed January 29, 2015.

3. Meeker M. Internet trends 2014-code conference. Kleiner Perkins Caufield Byers. kpcb.com/internettrends. May 28, 2014. Accessed February 9, 2015.

4. Smith ND. 15 digital facts every marketer should know. DM News website. www.dmnews.com/15-digital-facts-every-marketer-should-know/article/359081. July 7, 2014. Accessed January 30, 2015.

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